After surrendering six sacks in the first half of the opening loss to Jacksonville, the Texans have allowed seven in the last six quarters, including three in the victory at Cincinnati.
Since quarterback Deshaun Watson replaced Tom Savage at halftime of the 29-7 loss to the Jaguars, he has been the victim of those seven sacks.
The offensive line – as well as the other pass protectors – improved in Thursday’s 13-9 victory over the Bengals. In the second half, the Texans didn’t give up a sack to a terrific Cincinnati defense.
“I think they improved the whole game,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think those guys played a much better game.
“It’s a different challenge this week.”
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From Cincinnati to New England. From a team that can’t score a touchdown to a team that scores on everybody, thanks to quarterback Tom Brady.
Not only do the linemen have to protect Watson at Gillette Stadium, but they also have to help contribute to a productive running game to take pressure off the rookie making his second start.
No position is more crucial to a young quarterback’s development than his offensive line.
“I think it’s important,” O’Brien said. “I don’t really care if you’re young or if you’re a veteran quarterback, you need guys up front that are blocking well (and) give you time to throw the ball.
“(Improved pass protection) wasn’t just the line. I thought the backs helped. The backs did a great job of helping on the edge, and Lamar Miller did a nice job picking up blitzes. Tight ends, also.”
The Texans’ pass protection and run blocking will have to show more improvement Sunday if they hope to be competitive at New England.
“We have to do our best to make his job as easy as possible,” right guard Greg Mancz said. “He’s got a lot to do as a quarterback. There are a lot of things he has to see.
“We have to try to make it easy for him so he can focus on what he needs to do.”
Mancz is one reason the offensive line played better at Cincinnati. In the Jacksonville game, he came off the bench to replace left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo before moving to right guard to take over for the injured Jeff Allen.
Mancz the man so far
Mancz was the Texans’ best lineman in that game. He started at right guard against the Bengals. Don’t expect him to come out of the lineup.
Last season, Mancz replaced injured rookie Nick Martin at center and missed only one snap all season. He and left tackle Duane Brown were the team’s most productive offensive linemen.
“I try to do whatever they need me to do,” Mancz said. “I’ve always tried to learn everything by the system so I can get plugged in wherever they need me and try to do the best I can.
“There are a lot of things I need to work on to get used to playing that new spot. There are differences at every spot. You have to stay in front of your guy and keep him away from the quarterback.”
Pass protection is paramount, of course, but the linemen have to do a better job of run blocking, especially in short-yardage situations.
The running game, featuring Miller and D’Onta Foreman, can take a lot of pressure off Watson as he tries to navigate the Patriots’ defense.
The Texans average 130 yards rushing, but Watson has rushed for 83, including a 49-yard touchdown run.
“We’re going to have to do what we can do to take what they give us,” O’Brien said. “We can’t just go in there and pound our head on a wall.
“We’ve got to try to do a good job of staying balanced. You’ve got to do the best you can to, obviously, keep (New England’s offense) on the sideline.”
It all starts with Watson. His mobility can be a blessing and a curse for linemen. He can move to avoid sacks when the protection breaks down, but his inexperience can cause him to run into sacks when the blockers are doing their jobs.
“We’ve got five guys out there, and you’ve got to be on the same page all the time,” Martin said. “With a quarterback, it doesn’t really change for us. We have to execute the play that’s called.”
Searching for best five
Offensive line coach Mike Devlin has a difficult job mixing and matching his players to try to get the correct combination.
Mancz and left tackle Chris Clark were new starters against the Bengals. Kendall Lamm went from starting left tackle against Jacksonville to getting no snaps against Cincinnati.
“I’m going to play the guys that are playing the best,” O’Brien said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do – make it competitive in practice and try to put the best five out there.”